Aldermen approve dissolution of Punkin, transfer of service to the city

Published 11:48 am Wednesday, February 2, 2022

The Oxford Board of Aldermen approved the dissolution of the Punkin Water Association, Inc. and transfer of service to the city of Oxford. The board also approved a resolution requesting legislative approval to expand its water system up to 8 miles outside the city’s limits.

PWA has a history of discolored water and overall insufficient quality that has received complaints from its’ customers for over six year. In July 2021, Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presely ordered PWA to find a solution or be connected to Oxford’s system.

The PWA worked to replace meters and find leaks, introduce expert opinions to assist in improvements and exploring options for water sources. PWA currently services roughly 1,150 customers through the system.

According to Bart Robinson, discolored water was a eye-catching issue but PWA was grappling more with capacity issues which is why they’ve begun looking to Oxford.

“They’ve addressed a lot of their discolored water issues and they’re still fighting through just like we do every day,” said Robinson. “It’s just the capacity issue and the location of Punkin in relation to available water underground.”

The Aldermen’s approval is contingent on council approval as the agreement is still undergoing revisions with the Mississippi Public Service Commission and PWA and PWA is still making payments to the USDA.

The agreement gives the city a 60-day due diligence period. It also allows the city to start laying the infrastructure that will connect PWA’s system to the city while PWA is still operating until it is time for Oxford’s services to take over.

“The plan is to be able to charge back to Punkin whatever the cost of improvements we have to make are,” said Robinson. “Which will more than likely mean at some point we will issue a bond in the neighborhood of $2-2.5 million and allow the rate difference between Punkin and the city rates to advertise that debt.”

In order to take over Punkin’s service area, Oxford has to receive legislative approval to serve further than 5 miles from the city. The Board of Aldermen had an additional item on the agenda to approve a resolution asking for legislative approval.

Oxford needs approval from the Mississippi Public Service Commissioner to transfer service from PWA to Oxford and to be able to charge their rates.

“We will have to submit our rates,” said Robinson. “Whatever our rates that we are going to charge Punkin customers, we have to submit those to the Public Service Commission for approval.”

The Mississippi Department of Health will have to weigh in as well. Robinson stated the city will have to receive approval for the extension.

“They will analyze our capacity and our existing hydraulics to make sure that there is no affect on our system for serving them,” he said.

Mayor Robyn Tannehill said they are hopeful to connect the city’s water supply to PWA customers.

“It is, I think, important for the public to know that we will do this not at a cost to the city taxpayer,” she said. “That we will do this and charge that expense back to those who are getting their water through Punkin Water.”

It is a good idea for the board to consider this since it’s in the direction that Oxford is growing and the city will most likely annex to the east where the PWA water system is located, said Tannehill.